Next-generation PLM: Avoid being a casualty in vendors' fight for market supremacy

Product life-cycle management (PLM) software vendors are investing heavily in what they describe as next-generation solutions. That's good news and bad news for companies looking to deploy PLM technology. The good news is there are applications out there to address myriad product-development issues facing contemporary manufacturers—such as the need to share detailed product data throughou...


Product life-cycle management (PLM) software vendors are investing heavily in what they describe as next-generation solutions. That's good news and bad news for companies looking to deploy PLM technology.

The good news is there are applications out there to address myriad product-development issues facing contemporary manufacturers—such as the need to share detailed product data throughout global supply chains.

The bad news is not all vendors are offering the same depth and breadth of solutions, which means users must exercise caution when making a PLM software purchase.

The potential quandary confronting PLM users is reflected in the battle of words being waged by SAP and Oracle, the top-tier suppliers of enterprise applications that recently began flexing their muscles in the PLM space.

Both companies profess leadership in the realm of “enterprise PLM,” which essentially is the linking of product-related data with back-end business applications such as ERP, CRM, and supply chain planning.

Oracle stormed into the PLM market last fall by purchasing Agile Software, a specialist in helping OEMs share product-related information with contract manufacturers. Oracle President Charles Phillips likened this $495-million purchase to an R&D investment, providing an instant infusion of functionality it would have taken Oracle years to develop internally.

Soon after Oracle finalized its Agile acquisition, SAP unveiled a “road map” for adding new functionality to its PLM offerings. The map, which SAP says will be complete by 2010, includes:

  • Stronger capabilities for managing new product portfolios;

  • New role-specific user interfaces;

  • Improved supply chain collaboration functionality; and

  • Easier means of integrating data from various parts of the organization—from engineering to sales, manufacturing, and aftermarket service functions.

SAP says these enhancements would come through heavy use of its service-oriented NetWeaver technology platform, which supports creation of composite applications.

Oracle declined to comment when MBT asked for its reaction to SAP's road map last fall. Now, however—having assimilated Agile into its corporate culture—Oracle has a lot to say about its position in the PLM space.

“The Agile acquisition has established us as the leader in enterprise PLM,” says Hardeep Gulati, Oracle's VP of PLM and PIM. “We just completed a stellar second quarter in which we gained market share by expanding sales within the existing Agile installed base, within the existing Oracle base, with completely new customers, and even within the SAP installed base. We now have more seats within the SAP installed base than SAP has with its own PLM solutions.”

Hardeep Gulati, an Oracle VP, envisions the use of next-generation product life-cycle management technology leading to the development of "composite processes" such as demand-driven project planning.

While Gulati didn't say so, most of the SAP customers using Oracle's PLM solution purchased that software from Agile Software before its merger with Oracle. Gulati did argue, however, that Oracle already has many of the capabilities that SAP's road map promises—including portfolio management functionality and role-based user interfaces. “We also have a huge number of customers doing supply chain collaboration,” says Gulati.

Despite its professed lead in enterprise PLM, Gulati says Oracle also has a road map for improving its offering, comprised of three dimensions:

  • Applications unlimited : This is Oracle's term for continuing to support applications used by customers of companies it acquires. In this case, according to Gulati, it means Oracle will add new functionality to the Agile platform, including support for mechatronics, intellectual property protection, customer needs management, and new capabilities for analyzing product-related data.

  • Tighter integration of design data with back-end business systems such as ERP, CRM, and supply chain planning: Gulati says this integration will be accomplished via Oracle's application integration architecture (AIA).

  • Next-generation technology : This refers to blending of service-oriented architecture (SOA) and Web 2.0 features with the PLM platform to improve customers' ability to collaborate internally, and with supply chain partners.

Gulati envisions the use of next-generation technology leading to the development of “composite processes” such as demand-driven project planning. “That means having the ability to look at demand signals and plan the right time to launch products for a particular market,” he says.

While Oracle and SAP battle for supremacy in enterprise PLM, other vendors have their own vision of the next generation of PLM. For instance, Boston-based AMR Research says Siemens PLM Software, Dassault, and PTC are working to make it easier to move product design data to the shop floor—an area in which neither Oracle nor SAP has much expertise. Siemens, Dassault, and PTC also have heritage in the CAD space, where the product designs are created. That means they are more proficient at helping companies share and collaborate around 3D product models, and are developing solutions to fulfill that need.

Wide disparity across PLM vendors' offerings—and their areas of focus—is exactly why users need to take special care when choosing a vendor. For AMR's advice on choosing the right PLM vendor, this table is offered.

Major considerations

Common decision points

Features to look for

Guide to choosing a vendor

Industry requirements

Discrete manufacturing

BOM configuration management; unique discrete industry strength

Any vendor except process specialty vendors. Several vendors have industry specialties. Consider regulatory needs.

Process manufacturing

Formulas and recipes; specification management

Start with the process specialists, then look beyond. Several discrete vendors have expanded to manage process data. Consider regulatory needs.

PLM process emphasis


MCAD/ECAD data management; design process automation/reuse

Vendors with a CAD legacy are strongest with their native application. Decision is more open if multi-CAD.


Link design to order management; data most used beyond engineering

ERP vendors best manage PLM where design has less emphasis than business processes, including aftermarket.

Global requirements

Data access

Web access to documents and data; view and markup

Team program management and simple vaulting may work well. Deep PDM may not be required.

Process flow

Participate in workflow process; interactive collaboration.

Look for a robust, configurable workflow that scales. An easy-to-use but inflexible system may not be best.

Internal resource constraints

Major limitation

Subscription/hosted/on-demand, strong training program

Investigate an ASP or other hosting options. Look for solid training support either online or as a prepackaged option.

Minor issue

Standard licensing model; flexible workflow and modeling

Consider a highly configurable or programmable application if resources can support continuous process improvement.

Use existing IT applications

Primary goal

PLM within ERP/CAD or technology platform provider

Consider if legacy vendor's native PLM path is sufficient. Next look to its PLM partners, or push for partner support.

Secondary goal

Independent PLM with an open architecture

Start with the application that best satisfies the biggest pain. Choose an open architecture for legacy integration.

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